Ok. I know I’m not totally alone in thinking that Brett is a flaw. Or at least I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.
Helloooooooooo? Is anyone out there….???
The minor bought of vinous paranoia has to do with what seems like my inclusion in rarefied company, and I mean that in the “two percent of patients have a severe allergic reaction” sense or rarefied, and not in the “Emmy-award-winning drama for the seventh consecutive year” sense. You see, sometimes, it feels like I’m part of a group, rather tiny in number, that thinks a certain range of smells – barnyard, band-aid, and (putting it in the most polite context I can muster) “dirty diaper” – aren’t indicative of terroir, or the almost-as-ubiquitous “character.”
Call it the anti-brett clan, maybe?
It’s the group that classifies the presence of brettanomyces (a yeast that imparts aromas of band-aid, barnyard, and sometimes meaty funk to wines) as… well, as a flaw. No different than the unpleasant, musty odor cork taint, or the rotten-egg stench of sulfer.
Especially since, with increasing frequency, I seem to disagree with both the famous and not-so-famous wine critics and reviewers on how wines should be rated (in terms of recommending them to others) when those wine (to me, at least) very clearly display classic (nasty!) characteristics of brett.
I know that wine appreciation is subjective, and one person’s swill is another person’s prestige cuvee, but do people really enjoy the smell of band-aids and barnyard in their wines? I sure as hell don’t – and while I enjoy a touch of funk in some of my wines (the kind that smells like Slim Jims, or smoked meat), my prevailing thought for some time has been that brett is actually a wine flaw – yes, even the interesting meaty funkiness that I happen to… well, not like exactly, but not hate, either.
I say this because brett yeasts cannot yet be controlled, and until such time as they can be controlled (so that winemakers can ‘dial-in’ the amount – and type, as there are many brett yeasts and they impart different ‘flavors’ of off-beat funk) then whether or not the wine has pleasant smoked meat characteristics or instead smells like one of my daughter’s diaper blow-outs is almost entirely dictated by chance.
The aspect that has me questioning my sanity in all of this is that other people seem to like those wines – lots of people… and in some cases, they seem to really like them.
Other people like Robert Parker and Stephen Tanzer, for example…
I’m not (of course) saying my schnoz is better than Bobby’s or Stephen’s. But I am saying that they are giving (very high) scores to wines that, to me, are bretty.
Take the 2005 Vérité la Joie, which both Parker and Tanzer scored in the high 90s – ratings that would be squarely in my ‘A’ range, probably. My take on the wine:
Band-aid funk crashing an otherwise opulent black fruit party; Warning – for Brett-heads only!
Don’t get me wrong, the la Joie 2005 has a lot going for it. Massive, opulent, sexy black fruits for starters. A mouthfeel that is so killer, it could probably be used as a weapon that, while maybe not killing lesser wines, could certainly humiliate them to tears. But the bretty aromas are potent to the point of distraction, and for a wine that runs $150 I don’t want that kind of distraction when I’m drinking it. And if those aromas are indeed due to brett (I haven’t taken any samples to the NCIS crab lab lately for analysis, so I can’t say with 100% certainty that they do have brett), then that stank ain’t going anywhere, folks.
As the wine ages, it will become more perceptibly bretty, not less, as the primary fruits subside and the secondary aromas become more prevalent. In my experience (and that of others in my wine-geek-o-sphere) Bretty aromas stick around, roughly at the same intensity, as a wine ages – intense fruitiness may hide it a bit while the wine is young, but fruit can’t hide bretty smells forever. If you, like me, aren’t a brett fan, then wines like that will get worse with age, not better – and a young wine that seemed to have a bit of complexity added with the presence of Brett might develop into a stink bomb of an older wine later.
I seem to disagree with the majority when it comes to possibly-bretty wines that are more reasonably priced and likely meant for earlier consumption. Take me experience recently with the 2007 Sartori Regolo – another wine where the beguiling fruit (dried cherries, in this case) was getting buried in bretty funkiness (in this case, “smells of the barnyard,” to put it kindly). It’s a shame – the wine (like the Vérité la Joie 2005) is well-made; it just kind of, well, stinks. But search the Internet for reviews of that wine and you get scores in the 80s and a good deal of recommendations.
Am I crazy to disagree with the collective Internet wine consciousness? Or with Parker or Tanzer?
I posted a variant of this question on twitter, and the responses made me a bit hopeful that I wasn’t entirely bonkers (at least, not yet, anyway). Thanks to all of you who took the time to answer my twitter-posed inquiry – here are a few of the responses:
lagourmandesse: @1WineDude I’m on board with you. I once nicknamed a particularly bad bottle of pinotage “pino-bandage.”
CyrilPenn: @1WineDude – nah – I’m with you on brett – yuk.
phillywinefind: @1WineDude agree. brett is a spoilage yeast. and it smells and tastes bad.
ancientfirewine: @1WineDude If it enhances the earthy flavors naturally found in the wine and is not over the top I might see it as an asset.
dalecruse: @1WineDude @SilenesCellar I like a little brett but not if it’s the only thing I smell. As in much of life, I prefer balance when I find it.
zinhead: @1WineDude Re brett. My problem is I sometimes struggle detecting at lower levels. Pisses me off.
ahasse: @1WineDude I am in total agreement with you….. for what it is worth!
winehotline: Oh, awesome @1WineDude! Especially polemic stuff in the marketplace IMHO.
PNrieslingfan: @1WineDude I disagree with scores in general and I feel “brett” as a category is misunderstood.
wolfeswines: @1WineDude only on my 3 year old’s knee! #Brettsucksinmywine
thewinesleuth: @SilenesCellar @1WineDude what’s wrong with the smell of band-aids? :)
SilenesCellar: @1WineDude What’s wrong with Brett? :-) Besides I never associate band-aid with Brett. Almost never.
SorStrappo: @1WineDude you are not alone, my boy. i have a v low tolerance for brett. some i shan’t name seem to think them authentic etc. ewww.
OliverStyles: @1WineDude Brett’s not just about plasters…I quite like horsey smells…that’s a sign of a great claret, after all ;¬)
As you can read above, not everyone agreed with me, but several told me that I wasn’t crazy. Yet.
If there’s a lesson here, and I’m not sure if there is, it might be yet another cautionary tale of the dangers of blindly trusting the recommendation of any one wine critic – because their tastes may differ widely from yours, and you might end up with a wine that doesn’t appeal to you unless you’re fond of standing in vats of berry jam with a band-aid on your nose, while holding a bag of fertilizer in one hand and a dirty diaper in the other. Not that I am juding you if you are fond of that. Ok, maybe I am judging you a little bit.
Oh – and if you’re a brett-head, chances are pretty good that you’re not going to find a high degree of alignment with my palate and my wine recommendations, so consider yourself duly warned!
85 thoughts on “Am I Alone In Thinking That Brett Is A Flaw?”
Hear, hear. In my view, the potential aging problem when Brett's around is the real flaw; why else would winemakers consider it a spoilage organism?
Another problem: why trust a critic who proclaims to know the aging potential of a wine when that critic doesn't seem to understand the directional pull of Brett?
Great comments (as always), Tom. I suppose if one really likes those stinky aromas, then it *does* make sense to trust that critic. But clearly that critic's advise is not for my palate. Cheers!
I agree with you completely. I was at a brett seminar last week at VinCo 2011 in Grand Junction, CO and really got to smell and taste the 3 compounds produced by the mean little guy. I learned that 4-ethyl phenol produces the band-aid aromas and isovaleric acid produces the funky cheese and barnyard scents. Those two were definitely deal killers for me. However, 4-ethyl guaiacol produces the pleasant (at least for you and me) smoked meat and spicy aromas. I do not think that the benefits of 4-EG outweigh the gut-wrenchingness of 4-EP and IVA. There are other ways to achieve smokey aromas than with brett. I'd be willing to bet that brettheads are actually more sensitive to 4-EG than the other two.
Beyond convincing people that brett is actually a flaw, the brett=terroir idea is also rampant. I tasted a 2000 Chateau Beaucastel Hommage à Jacques Perrin that was clearly flawed with brett, but most everyone else decided that those aromas and flavors were typical of Beaucastel's "terroir." Brett does not equal terroir, just flawed winemaking. Though, I guess we'll also not be able to convince a Budweiser drinker that a double IPA's hoppiness is not a flaw…
Thanks, CWP – I had a very similar session at CIA in St. Helena last year, and brett was included in that class which happened to be a class about identifying FAULTS in wine :).
Totally agree about Brett NOT being terroir; "terroir" <> "ass"!!!
Brett is a flaw.
Call me off topic, but holy crap, I thought I was insane for smelling Slim Jim in a wine the other day.
I feel like every time I visit your blog Joe there's a new polemic about brett. Last time you wrote off two whole appelations in the Loire because of it. We get it: you don't like it. Nor do a lot of people. I for one like the smokey meaty notes and think barnyard (in moderation) can make a wine feel rustic and pastoral. I'm with you on the poop though. Sure which of the 3 aromas we get and in what amount is up to chance, but so is 90% of winemaking. Vintners can't dial in yeasts any more than they can dial in precipation, temperature, or humidity. And that's never going to change.
Point is, I'm not sure why we're still having this debate. Some people are willing to gamble on brett to occasioanlly deliver something they enjoy, others, like yourself, avoid it all costs. I don't see a reason to one side should pick a fight with the other, drink what you like and get over it.
Aaron – Thanks for the comment; point taken but see tom barras' comment below because I think he's right on point about the thing that drives me most nuts about Bretty wines: what I don't like is being told that Brett is character or is a terroir selling point. I think that approach is complete bunk but it actually gets very little coverage in the wine press. I obviously think that bretty wines need to get called out, especially when they are expensive wines, and so I guess I'm saying that you'll continue to see that done here on there virtual pages (sorry! :).
Fair enough. It's disingenous at best and even harmful to consumers to say "This wine has an interesting meaty funk imparted by the particular climate or soil!" when truly it is Brett that does the job. We should be upfront with each other when we talk about wine and it's characteristics and the winemaking process. Brett is not terroir any more than cork taint is. I think you can argue that it does impart character (whatever that means), but that's not really the point. The point is, do you like it or do you not, and no is going to convinve anyone to change their mind on that point.
So I can appreciate your goal of 'calling out' Bretty wines as they are. What I disagree with is the tone, but perhaps I'm reading you wrong. Anyway, (almost) alwyas enjoy the blog so thanks for all the hard work and great information.
Thanks, Aaron – to your point, there are a great many people out there who have kind of grown up with the notion of brett as terroir, or at leat brett as character, and I do agree that it's tough to change minds on topics like this which sometimes border on the religious (similr to Biodynamics – man, what is *wrong* with me that I keep gravitating towards these issues? :-).Cheers!
Well said. Well said, indeed.
The high art of salesmanship is convincing someone that a flaw is a virtue. Brett is ok, only if it's "Maverick." Anything else is barnyard, and when I'm eating food, barnyard is the last thing I want to be smelling. Which reminds me of trip to Germany decades ago, when we stayed at a family-owned pension where the livestock were in the very next walled off area. I had to leave the breakfast area and to outside for fresh air, otherwise I would have thrown up immediately.
Thanks for the comments, everyone!
Jason – I get slim jim action in wine all the time! You're not crazy – or, at least, you're not any crazier than I am. :)
I'm glad Joe keeps pounding away at brett-tainted wines because of the very reason he cites: critics keep giving these wines big scores. Should those of us who don't like brett just huddle up in dark corners and grumble to ourselves about something only we understand? I'm glad Joe is taking up the cause of educating his 'not so serious' wine drinking readership about the serious pitfalls of buying on a wine critic's word. I have pointed out brett aromas to literally hundreds of wine students, and I am amazed at how many thank me later on. Most point out that they didn't like wines that smelled like band-aids or fecal smells before, but they couldn't conceptualize why the wine smelled like that. The terroir argument is idiotic; anyone who studies Brettanomyces even a tiny bit should know that it obfuscates terroir. Drink what you like, just don't drink the WA/WS Kool-aid. Wine collectors owe it to themselves to recognize brett taint and other wine flaws. If you like brett taint, good for you. Just don't share it with me.
Jason – my man, I hope I didn't steal any thunder from you on this one, because I've been waiting a LONG TIME for you to start BrettBomb.com…! :-)GREAT comment about brett actually being an enemy of terroir and masking it. And then some people pay > $100 a bottle for the privilege? Sounds cray to me, too!
I think you're absolutely correct to say it's a flaw, but others are fine to say they enjoy it. First of all, some flaws can be intentional, both reduction and VA are flaws that are found and prized, like Brett in some wines. A ton of great art is deliberately flawed in the sense that it isn't a perfect picture, but it's actually the flaws that make it great. This can be true, sometimes, for physical appearance, think Cindy Crawford's mole for example.
The third article in the series on Wine Flaws that Jamie Goode did for us was on Brett (it's subscriber-only, but I'll leave the link anyway: http://www.sommelierjournal.com/articles/article…. he also did one on reduction and VA.
I think people get upset because the word flaw indicates an error, when many times it is intentional. But it's hard to argue that things like Brett and VA and reduction aren't flaws.
Thanks, Phil – great point about reduction and VA, and the notion as others have pointed out can also be extended to oxidation and other things that are done intentionally to wines. I still come back to the “was it intentional and controlled?” personal mantra but I do take your point.Cheers!
I can't think of a single person I've heard say or write that Brett isn't a flaw. It's by definition a flaw (well, Brett isn't, but it's resulting aromas are). Oh, wait, I thought we were talking about Brett Favre, that yeast infection of a quarterback with horrible aromas.
Everyone has different levels of sensitivity to all sorts of wine flaws. Brett is your hobby horse, Joe. I know others I respect who will tell me they hate a wine for all of its Brett, and I can only faintly smell it. But I have very low tolerance for VA, and, believe me, there are wines loaded with VA that get 95's, and A's. Others can smell TCA blocks away. I never know if a winemaker is simply insensitive to VA, or just too lazy to top his barrels. And let's not forget that people can develop blind spots in their nose as easily as one's eyes can go snow blind. Famously, a Napa winery not so long ago had wines that were loaded with TCA. The people working there, the old wooden winery was contaminated with TCA, were smothered in TCA and simply couldn't smell it any more, and they thought the wines were fine. It's like going to a cat lady's house and she thinks the house doesn't smell like her 13 cats even though it makes you want to cough up a furball. These are all excuses, of course–flawed is flawed. But because you go crazy and say there's tons of Brett doesn't mean everyone can smell it. But, yes, it's a flaw, and, no, you're never alone.
Mistaking Brett for terroir, well, that's another pathetic kettle of smelly fish. The difference between Brett and terroir is that Brett actually means something.
Good flaws and bad flaws!
I suppose that would be true of Brett if it were part of winemaking, but it isn't. I've never met a winemaker who adds or seeks to add Brettanomyces to his or her wine. Nor have I met winemakers looking to maintain excessive VA (although there are a few who maintain excessive VA, but probably because they either don't care or don't know any better).
On the other hand, reduction is a winemaking method, but it must be controlled or it, too, is a flaw–and can lead to major problems.
High pH is also a winemaking method, even if it is a risky business. Marry high pH with Brett and pray…
Thanks, Thom – pray indeed… might need some powerful deities there! ;-)
While there may not be winemakers who seek to add Brett, there certainly are those who end up with Bretty wines and don't actively do anything about it because they and their consumers enjoy the wine as is. Château de Beaucastel comes to mind as one. I think this is basically the same as 'actively' seeking to add Brett. The question is, if Brett were easily controlled and winemakers could add or remove it cheaply and with precision, would some continue using it. I think yes, meaning that for some, it is an acceptable, possible desirable flaw.
The accusation about Brett in Beaucastel has been around for years and years, yet Beaucastel has repeated said that under lab analysis their wines do not contain any sign of Brett. I don't know if anyone has ever done an independent analysis of Beaucastel, but they'd have little reason to lie. So, if the good people at Beaucastel are honest, and they are, then there is a case where folks point the finger at Brett and it isn't even there.
Let's not forget, as well, that as winemakers go for riper and riper grapes, perhaps in order to get better Parker scores, they create a more attractive wine for Brett to thrive in. This may be the main reason Brett is flourishing, if, in fact, it is.
Hi Ron- concerning an independent analysis, you may want to check out Jamie's book (I mentioned it in a previous post). He mentions a study done by Charles Collins in 1998. He had the 1989 and 1990 vintages of Beaucastel tested and they came back with highly elevated levels of 4EP, a tell-tale of brett infection…
Thanks, Aaron – " The question is, if Brett were easily controlled and winemakers could add or remove it cheaply and with precision, would some continue using it. " – That's a FANTASTIC subject for a follow-up post…
I'm with you in the anti-Brett camp. And I think many people pooh-poohed its influence because; a – they didn't have a good enough nose and palate to detect it, or b- they made the nasty stuff and need to define their bad stuff as "good" so they can sell it. It's kinda like the French who convinced the wine world that their style defined quality, and anything that was different (better?) was not good.
Thanks, Deb – the marketing angle is amazing. Some of these bretty wines are… well, they are NOT inexpensive!
Finally, something that we disagree about… football. I also mean no ill will towards the Steelers (or their fans), but I do not want to see them do well next weekend. I'm not so mean as to wish a 35 point drubbing, but a 14 point Packer victory would suffice!
CWP – :-) All I can say is, GO STEELERS! I know that people quickly get sick of teams that win a lot, but bear in mind that when I started cheering for the Steelers they were in the 'dark times' of the early 80s, after the hangover of the 70s-era SB victories. So I'm basking in the success now, because you never know, it could be another 20 years before I see this again! Cheers!
People only get sick of the teams that win a lot when they are not their team! Us Packers fans know the 'dark times' of the 80s, too! Only did it start to turn around when BRETT showed up. Maybe a little Brett isn't so bad…. Best of luck to your guys next week (well, maybe not the best of luck, but so-so luck).
:-) Thanks, CWP, here's to a good game at least!
This reminds me of two tasting incidents from my wine-director/sommelier past:
One was with friend and comic wine-guy David Lynch, then at Wine&Spirits Magazine, where he exclaimed about a particularly Bretty wine:
"This wine smells like poo!"
The other incident was when a line of 3 primitivi from puglia were left as samples at the restaurant. Another manager and I decided to taste the wines at the end of the night… The first was only slightly funky, enough to give the wine a little welcomed complexity. The second was decidedly "barnyardy". The third (and most expensive) of the line, the "riserva", stunk so much like human feces we coudln't immagine actually putting it in our mouths.
Moral of the story: I agree that brett is a flaw, but a minuscule amount CAN add something to a wine. Anything more only detracts.
PS-Can't the same be said for Volatile Acidity? I think so…
PPS-ANY amount of brett is UNACCEPTABLE in white wine.
Thanks, Wayne – and great point reminding us that we are talking about reds here, almost exclusively (thankfully I've yet to encounter brett in a white wine). cheers!
"Minuscule amount" is not exactly accurate. It may be "minuscule identification" on the taster's part, but if the spoilage shows itself, the wine is in danger of getting worse over time–no one knows how long it will take (or even if it ever will get truly bad).
Any identifiable Brettanomyces is a crap shoot, which is exactly why it is considered a spoilage flaw.
Just because some of us accept the smell of feces, doesn't mean that feces aren't potentially lethal if eaten.
Long story short:
Got lost with my (then) wife and her family in Southern France in 1991. Ended up driving onto some poorly marked estate where no one was apparently home. Being Americans, we don't just go away politely. Gotta walk around, knock on a few doors… We're about to leave and this guy asks "what's up?" We say something like "heard you sell wine?" He's all "Yeah, sometimes we've been known to do that."
So, we're invited in. It's nothing crazy- but the place has character- it's a friggin basement/cave with actual moss and stuff… We start to get a little pumped because this is cool and this guy isn't acting like we're morons (which, of course, we are). He opens a few bottles. It's good. REALLY GOOD. Like, blow your mind, beyond being in a cave in Southern France, good.
Except for my father-in-law…"It's alright" he says… We start jabbering, the winery guy smiles, and says he'll be right back. Goes back into the cave and comes out with a few lightly dusty bottles… "give this a try…" he says. We abide. It's stupid. Seriously… My head exploded. Dirt, but sweet, beautiful, wonderful dirt. Not Like that crap you pick out of your fingernails after being called in from the playground. We're talking earth with a capital E… And leather… Sweaty Leather… I know I'm pushing it here but there's a point, and btw, there are no band-aid's in this distant memory… It was the first time I felt like I understood why people go crazy about wine. It was a life changing experience.
Except for in the middle of it… There was my father-in-law…. "Smells like sh*t!" Dead serious: "It's a d*mn, frigg'in bahn-yahd! (he was a true New Englander…). Whatchu guys all excited' about????"
Clueless bastard… This was the real deal, I thought to myself.
That wine: 1989 Chateau Beaucastel*
The truth: He was right. **
The bigger truth: This is why I love wine. This is why I got in the business.
*1991 Wine Spectator "Wine of the Year," (not that it should mean anything to sophisticated dudes, such as ourselves…).
**For some fascinating stuff about Brett, check out "The Science of Wine" by Jamie Goode. pgs 136-143… especially the subsection on pg 142. I should add this is one of my favorite wine books overall. For irredeemable cork-dorks only though. My wife's eye glaze over the minute I pull it off the shelf (and she's in the industry too).
Founder and Principal
Chris – thanks for the perspective, recommendation, and for sharing that amazing story!
Thanks for the feedback, Joe! You really know how to get some interesting conversations started…
Btw- sorry to hear about Pouncey. That's a tough loss for the Steelers and such a bummer for him to miss the game after the season he's had.
Thanks, Chris – yeah, I know… my guys are all banged-up! But I still like our chances to bring home a 7th Lombardi!
Oh yeah, I almost forgot- I just registered for the marketing seminar in St. Helena on April 4. Was psyched to see they scored you for the roundtable. Should be very interesting!
Chris – yeah, it's an interesting group. I'm hoping Gary will still talk to me after the Jets loss, too. :)
Just to further the conversation here is an article from WIne East on Brett Detection, standard comment Brett is a flaw period. http://www.winesandvines.com/template.cfm?section… Brett Before It Finds You
Thanks, Mark – that article is phenomenal. Two things about it really stand out to me:
1) "some winemakers may consider a few aspects of Brett growth to be beneficial to complexity, and have even toyed with intentionally dosing from reserved barrels of “good Brett” wine" – EXACTLY the type of thing I meant about deliberate control (though the flipside, which is deliberate control to minimize or eliminate 'bad' brett yeast strains is currently not really possible – thought the article suggests some promising methods to help).
2) "Brett’s tolerance to alcohol is so high, however (even higher than that of S. cerevisiae), that after alcoholic fermentation, the environment is highly selective for their dominance, especially if sulfite is low." So we might be making the brett situation even *worse* (note to creationists: this is yet another example of natural selection in action! :-).
Joe, I just stmbled across the article this morning going through back issues looking for something I had not read.
One thing he did not mention in the article that I though was puzzling was high pH as a factor in potentially encouraging Brett growth.
My problem is I am very brett insensitive and for me to pick it up it has to smack me upside the head. Eric on the other hand has such a low tolerance he can't drink a wine that I have no issues with. A good thing for a winemaker I believe.
Speaking of Eric – I think I saw him at a restaurant where I was having dinner recently: Cochon. Didn't get a chance to say hello to him though. Tell him I said hello if you get a chance! I think he and I would be on a similar brett wavelength…
BTW – I didn't understand the pH angle on that article, either, but chalked it up to my not knowing enough about the chemistry side of it.
Yeah that was him, dining alone right, his wife was in PA Hospital getting her knees done.
In my opinion, 1-3% (sterile filtered) brett infected wine would do the Northern California Pinot world a huge service in terms of adding subtle layers of damp earth to the fruit bomb flat cherry cola rut it's in currently.
I thought about moving to somewhere in the central valley, open a shop where I'd take a small quantity of Winery X's wine, encourage a nicer strain to party and then sterile filter it (with certified proof) and deliver that 1% back for final blend. It'd certainly make most California Pinots more interesting to drink.
Brett is a flaw. A small amount may add some aromatic, flavor and textural complexity. In that context, it is (at best) a gray area. However, brett robs wine of longevity. Whether it is because it comes to dominate the composition as a wine ages or because it has a direct and causal role in a premature demise of wine, it eliminates the option of ageing a wine. That deprives a product of one of its defining characteristics: the ability to evolve into something complex, appealing and sublime. The choice of a sector of the market to not age wine is not reason enough to disregard these facts.
Arthur – ” brett robs wine of longevity” VERY well put!!!
To be quite honest, the entire setup for using molecular biology techniques to identify the presence of Brettanomycetes (live) in a winery is quite inexpensive. You can get a gel-box, transilluminator, power-supply and used thermocycler all for a whopping $2-$3K. Yes, that's right, less than the cost of 4 oak barrels. The reagents need to be stored in a -20 freezer, even a home unit. (Oh, but science is sooo expensive…)
You can do it *so* cheap, that you could test every barrel individually, so that you could quarantine your barrels. I know, I've done this before.
Why is this not done as a matter of standard procedure? It is because the wine industry lives in science-land from the 1970's. One other component is that the average wine-maker *thinks* they are scientists, which is an industry-wide problem. It's high time that the industry gets its head out of its collective arses and start hiring scientists to monitor fermentations microbially, of course they won't *pay* for it, since a winemaker who isn't an arm-chair scientist is simply a figurehead. They'll pay for molecular detection *after* the problem exists, which is entertainingly useless.
Also, using VA to describe acetic acid is immensely silly and very 1970. It is acetic acid. No one reputable uses that silly distillation method in which the primary source of interference is lactic acid, which in some wines is as high as 4-6g/L…
Wow this is a extremely damaging mind set that we need more scientists in wine. That is the exact opposite of what we need you get more and more scientists poking around in your wine to find "flaws" and what are you gonna end up with, your gonna push further and further towards this profile of what good wine must be instead of leaving the parameters wide open. Scientists don't make wine they engineer it in a lab. The only possible result of this is ending up with all of our wines tasting the same and don't make the argument about terroir either, the use of enzymes and fining agents and all the other chemicals that the science minded wine makers like to use do nothing to benefit a wines terroir all they do is serve to destroy it. In the end you just end up with a bottle of wine that tastes overly processed and beaten to death, almost tortured until it has given up any sign of life or terroir that it once had. Some of the best wines ever made were made decades ago by humble and crafty vignerons not science geeks in a lab. Science has a place in wine but far to many people give it to prominent a roll.
Eric – I understand the hesitancy around going too scientific, but if the science leads to better understanding of the natural processes, then it can be used "for good" to allow for the smallest amount of most effective (and natural) manipulation. I don't agree that it leads to a baladromic course into wine sameness – it depends on how and to what extent those scientific tools are used, and that isn't up to science but up to the hands that are growing the grapes and crafting the wines.
natural manipulation is a contradiction in terms. Something that is natural by definition is created by nature, not in a science lab. I'm not saying that science has no place in the wine world because it does. However, the level in which it is used in many wineries is just plain ridiculous. People who cant leave there wine alone for a month or in some cases even a week without messing with it with some additive or enzyme. As a winemaker I believe it is my job to monitor the natural process with minimal intervention not to try to bend a wine to my will and strive to create something that the land can't. As far as brett goes people complain about band aid and barnyard aromas, but brett can also give wine unique leathery and smoky aromas and flavors. So lets get off this witch hunt of brett
We might be more in agreement that you might think, Eric. I agree 100% with this statement: “I'm not saying that science has no place in the wine world because it does. However, the level in which it is used in many wineries is just plain ridiculous.”I also noted previously that I happen to like a little smoked meat brett in some wines – but that doesn't mean it's technically not a spoilage flaw and almost certainly isn't the result of a yeast deliberately cultivated or naturally encouraged by grapegrowers and winemakers.In terms of natural manipulation, I don't consider it a contradiction. I mean, natural selection in evolution is manipulation and it's 100% natural – and there are plenty of examples of humans taking advantage of our knowledge of how that works to create variations in plants (cabbage being the most famous example, from which dozens and dozens of varieties are “descended” like broccoli) and animals (every dog breed is a descendant from the wolf). Science has enhanced out ability to manipulate using and enhancing that knowledge and it doesn't require any addition of chemicals or other similar manipulators. I don't think it takes too much of an imaginative stretch to envision how this might translate to farming / wine.
Glad we can agree on that, but with natural manipulation I still can't get behind it, if man is interceding in the process of wine making with un natural ingredients and synthetics I see that as far from natural as you can get. As far as the brett thing goes, I just can't believe something that can impart good aromatics and flavors as being a flaw even though it can go the other way and lead to off aroma's and flavors. I also think that as consumers in America we are way more prone to point out the brett "flaw" in new world wines rather than old world. If wines from the old world are bretty people just make the excuse that its that old world charm and style. Reason being is that old world wineries do not have the same cleanliness standards that american wineries have.
Eric – understood (and appreciated!).
I dunno, Randy – might be playin' with fire there :)
Erika Szymanski did a great story on Brett, Meet Brett: Why You Do or Don’t Want It In Your Wine (http://palatepress.com/2010/10/wine/meet-brett-why-you-do-or-dont-want-it-in-your-wine/). It does an excellent job of describing what it is, what efforts can be made to control it, and more, for those interested in further information on the subject.
David Honig, that URL doesn't go to where you want it to go methinks, probably karma.
Excellent article with a great explanation. But Joe leaves a comment there that I think is telling. He says that wine consumers who enjoy wines with a bit of Brett character are "unfortunately misguided" and "probably insane". It that kind of attitude, telling people who hold a subjective viewpoint that they are wrong, that turns people off to wine and especially wine professionals. You're job is to educate, not tell people with certain tastes they are misguided. That's not only insulting, but it does the worse thing you can do in the wine world: purport that there are objective standards that all wine drinkers who know what they're talking about agree on, and that everyone else is just 'misguided.'
Aaron – so the smiley face with which I ended that parenthetical phrase is meaningless?
Give me a break. I really hope you're not making your comment with any seriousness. Please tell me this is a joke. I refuse to believe that the majority of rational people reading that comment would take portion of it literally.
For those who are curious what we're talking about here, the text of my comment on the PP article linked by David Honig above follows –
"Great overview and I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this statement:
'Not only can we not yet control the amount of Brett in a wine, we can’t even completely eradicate it.'
I think this is key to understanding that Brett is a flaw. What I mean is, it is technically a flaw until it can be controlled in some way – until then, it’s an unwanted pest to those who don’t like it, and a lucky draw for those (unfortunately misguided and probably slightly insane :-) that do."
The smiley face was my way of saying "ha-ha, guess which side of the brett debate I'm on!" It was NOT meant as shorthand for "And we know that's what I really think, and by the way my opinion is the only valid one and that's how I truly feel despite several years of blog comments and articles that stand as evidence that I frequently have my opinion changed by readers who have different views than I do, and that show time and again that I do not believe that wine is governed solely by objective markers."
It's sort of like me saying "but all of those Ravens fans are just insane anyway :-)" – I mean, who honestly actually **believes** that when they read it, especially with the smiley-face?
So, it wasn't an evil grin superiority …….. :)?
Look, I do appreciate Aaron's point of view but it's taking a tiny snippet and reading way too much into it. Maybe I should have spelled it out more clearly but that's what the smiley-face "shorthand" is for anyway!
Aaron does make a good point, though – maybe I *should* be more careful and less flippant with those remarks in the future. Anyone who has even been a casual reader here over the years I think would believe me when I say that I do NOT want people shirking away from wine's subjectivity nor do I want to contribute one iota to wine's intimidation factor.
In fact, I think this very post explaining that I think brett is a spoilage flaw, and that people shouldn't feel intimated into thinking it's supposed to be good even if the wine smells bad to them, is evidence of that.
When in proper balance, brettanomyces is a flaw the way Tina Fey's scar is a flaw.
By the way, try a beer made with brettanomyces instead of saccharomyces sometime…
Jefe – I drink beer made with brett. It's good, and the brewers actively try to cultivate those yeasts deliberately. In my definition, that's not a flaw; and for the most part they're not worried about spoilage (though some of those beers can age a bit).
As for the comparison to Fey's scar, I don't agree that it's apt: my thought is that brett is more like Tina Fey deliberately applying smelly perfume and then putting makeup on one side of her face in abstract, angular patterns.
And she'd still be hot ;)
However, you have just admitted in certain circumstances (aka, beer) that you enjoy the flavor and aroma compounds of Brett. So I guess it's conditional for you too?
Has to do with intent and control, Jefe. So in a way it's conditional but I don't think that's inconsistent with what I wrote in the post or in the comments.
Yep, only in the US or Australia would we be discussing this. Winemaking has become the best form of control freakism – it wasn't that long ago that we didn't even understand how yeast turned grapes into wine and now suddenly if something happens which the winemaker didn't intend the wine is flawed! It's kind of sad, really, that a beverage which is by nature quite natural has become a fully man-made product (wine is always a little bit man-made, otherwise it's vinegar).
Seriously though, I don't think Brett is a flaw – maybe copious amounts to the point that it is all one can smell/taste, sure, but that's pretty rare in my experience, especially in the sterile environments of most new world, high-tech wineries. I guess we should eliminate all chance in winemaking and leave it up to the the winemaker to use every tool and chemical available to make an extremely fruit forward, polished wine. Wait, I think we do that already here in the US – perhaps this is why I seek out French wines whenever I have the chance.
Steven – I also decry the overuse of tech to manipulate winemaking, but as I noted in an earlier comment response above I don't see this as a fault of science but as a result of a crutch that could be overused by winemakers and grapegrowers.
We need to temper the idea that "perfection isn't perfect" (with which I'd agree) against the reality that flawed wines – which are flawed even by your definition of having copious amounts of brett that severely detract from a wine and/or spoil it outright – are being sold to consumers as wines of "character" with steep price tags to match. Those people aren't all "brett-heads" – many are just people who then conclude that they just don't "get" expensive wine because they can't figure out why they don't like it and find it stinky. And that's bad for the entire industry, I think (except for those with the specious marketing selling the overly-bretty wines, that is).
I totally agree with that statement – I also have a problem with so-called "Brett bombs" being misinterpreted as something which expensive wines should taste like. However, in my experience this is not normally the case – the wines I've had with the most Brett have tended to be lower level Bordeaux and Rhone wines, and I've had quite a few older WA State wines with some serious stink. I've yet to try Chateau Beaucastel, but I know the reputation of that wine.
My point is simply that I wouldn't consider most wines which have Brett to be flawed – I strongly believe that practically every winery has it to some level and keeping it to a minimal level is an important piece of winemaking, but I whole-heartedly disagree with methods such as DMDC (Velcorin) to control it. Sometimes we need to just let nature run its course, and if the wine's pH is high enough that Brett develops during bottle aging, well then we should be drinking those wines younger. It is a shame when an older bottle has acquired so much Brett aroma that what was once there is hardly detectable, but I'd rather have that than what was once a deadly poison in my wine.
This is what makes it such a tricky subject, because everyone will have different sensitivity levels and therefore a different barometer of where that “fault” line is in terms of brett amounts. But I'll say one thing: when I'm not sure about whether or not a wine's stink is too much, I ask my wife to try it. Her brett tolerance level is higher than mine, and if she thinks it's stinky then I don't feel so bad calling that wine out. :)Cheers!
Obviously, you are far from "alone" in realizing what brett is: something interesting as a nuance, something totally obnoxious when less than subtle. The more pertinent point is this: a lot of well known critics
1. are insensitive to brett, even in rampant form
2. Might actually like brett, even when it's stinky
3. Couldn't tell a good (or bad) wine from a side of a barn
Personally, I think #1 and #3 are more likely. Which goes to show: what an absurd circumstances the wine world has put itself into, putting so much credence into certain critics with very little credibility as judges of quality. The more people ignore these critics, the better off everyone will be…
Randy – always awesome to have you stop by! I'm kind of a fan-boy for you (don't worry, I don't stalk. Not much, anyway :-).
I have some friends in the industry (sales, mostly) who have come to very similar conclusions as you noted above. In their view, brett is the Achilles Heal of those critics, so much so that exposing their penchants and preferences for bretty wines could become their "undoing." Obviously they're taking the logic of what you're saying above and stretching it a bit – as you noted, the wine biz has put themselves into the situation where critics hold enormous influence and so it's a "live by the sword, die by the sword" situation now. Those critics will continue to hold influence even if they highly rate wines that smell like band-aids because the industry *needs* them to have influence. Having said that, I agree that it's important for wine lovers to trust their own inner-critics and preferences and to understand that those things can and should trump even the highest scores by the most influential of wine critics.
You are wise, grapemaster.
I happen to LOVE garlic. In fact, once while eating at the Stinking Rose in SF I sent a meal back and said "look, this place is THE garlic restaurant, don't treat me like too much of a tourist, this dish needs WAY more garlic in it please." :-)
Vinnie Cilurzo, the brewmaster and founder of Russian River Brewing Co., makes a fabulous brew called Damnation, based on a Belgian abbey ale, which is fermented entirely with Brettanomyces. So, no, Brett is not always a flaw. On the other hand…
I like a little brett myself. Little being the operative word…
I think it's unfair to say that any presence of brettanomyces constitutes a faulty wine. I wonder, Joe: do you not drink much Old World wine? I'm sure you are aware that a huge percentage of wines from a number of Old World regions contain small amounts of this critter. The Rhone (North and South) is a good example. I like a lot of those wines (from the Rhone and elsewhere) and have found them to age just fine, often well, in fact. I understand your argument, but there are so many wines with low enough levels that they don't get into the less pleasant byproducts as long as they're stored properly (very important over time). Having talked to people who know exponentially more than I do about this subject, I've been led to believe that most (the majority, anyway) wines one might call "rustic" or "earthy" have some brett. I guess if you think all of those are faulty, more for the rest of us, but it seems a bit misguided to try to convince others that all of those wines aren't sound or ageworthy.
Hi Doug – I do drink a fair amount of Old World wine (but not as much as New World, mostly now due to the volume samples coming my way and where they're from which are primarily New World locations). And I understand perfectly what you're saying – the point of which is, I think, that a small enough amount of brett is fine and doesn't spoil a wine as it ages.I agree with you. Brett itself is still a spoilage flaw in my book, but I've never been so hard core as to entirely dismiss a wine that has some brett as totally flawed; in those cases, I tend to view them as flawed but to the point of distraction. The higher the brett factor, the lower my wine rating (usually), but I wouldn't go so far as to dismiss all wines with any amount of brett as somehow unworthy of being enjoyed. I've often said here that I like a touch of smoked-meat/slim-jim/leather in some reds and those can absolutely be caused by small amounts of brett – the key for me is SMALL. VERY SMALL – a little… scratch that… a TINY amount goes a looong way. But I think it's naive of us to assume most winemakers are doing it on purpose – for a great many of those wines, statistically-speaking the odds have GOT to be in favor of those less-stinky-but-more-interesting strains of brett getting into the winery by chance, not by cultivation. Once brett can be controlled, with unwanted strains being minimized and wanted ones being cultivated, then I'll stop calling the deliberate additions faults – they'd then be more akin to controlled malolactic fermentation.MY tirade in this post is really much more about wines with large amounts of brett spoilage getting high marks from critics and being sold to wine consumers with high price tags. I genuinely do find that practice to be questionable, mostly because it turns a lot of people off to wine. “Ewww, this is stinky… but so-and-so said it was supposed to be great… and it costs a lot of money… I guess I just will never 'get' wine…” I see it as another myth perpetuated by the wine biz that turns out to ultimately be anti-consumer, and to me that's wrong.Now, if a wine lover actually enjoys brett and has learned to do so from following their own palates, then more power to them (and more brett-free wines for me! :-).Cheers!
To show how far off the deep end Parker is: Years ago when Parker was on the Prodigy system we got into a debate about Brett. I told him he had a higher than normal threshold and when he got it at that high level he liked it. He told me I had a squeeky clean Calif. palate. I challenged him to name a single Calif wine he had EVER had that had too much brett. He named a 1957 Rhone. When pushed he admitted he could nopt name a single Calif wine. He gave me permission to "gloat" I told him he missed the point-I was trying to teach him the limits of his palate. He just couldn't bring himself to admit to having anything other than a perfect palate. Sigh
Bob – Parker does have a perfect palate; it's perfect **for him**.
The Brett lovers can keep buying their highly priced "complex" expressions of spoiled wine. It will keep the demand down on the beautifully balanced expressions of acid, tannin, fruit and oak that I like!
Well, mark, I suppose there is that!
Late to the party, and maybe this has been brought up in previous comments but… I have to agree with the basic premise; Brettanomyces is a flaw. Flaw being defined as "a feature that mars the perfection of something", an example of which could be Marylin Monroe's facial mole. However, one thing you fail to point out is the difference between a flaw and a fault; and there is a distinction. In your words, "No different than the unpleasant, musty odor cork taint…" TCA is generally recognized as a fault, while Brett is generally recognized as a flaw, and as it is a flaw, it simply comes down to two or three things: The amount present in the wine, the taster's threshold and perhaps whether or not it is a feature of the wine that someone likes or dislikes. As with the mole on Marylin's face, Brett at certain levels is a feature, and a feature that I like. If Marylin's mole took up her whole face it would be a different story, same with Brett. For me it is about levels and not absolutes. Cheers.
SilesCellar – very interesting and thoughtful differentiation you make there. I suppose I equate those two states when it comes to brett (maybe incorrectly). Cheers!
I have to admit that I get a kick from your blog the more I follow you. I'm with you on this – I hate the smell Brett while my Euro friends consider it part of their terroir. I call it unsanitary wine making practices – the difference betwee Dago Red Wine and a good California wine is Sanitation and Temperature control. Keep up the great work!
Thanks, VAC – appreciate the props!
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